What Does Eminent Domain Mean

It is the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners.   Federal, State and Local governments may take private property through their power of eminent domain or may regulate it by exercising their power.  A variety of property rights are subject to eminent domain, such as air, water and land rights.

So the meaning of eminent domain goes to the power that was created to authorize the Government or the condemning authority, called the condemnor, to conduct a sale of property for common public good.  To exercise the power of eminent domain, the government must prove that the four elements from the 5th Amendment are present: 1) private property, 2) must be take, 3) for public use, 4) and with just compensation.

Sometimes confused with eminent domain, the term “condemnation” is used to describe the formal act of the exercise of the power of eminent domain to transfer title to the property from its private owner to the government. This use of the word should not be confused with its sense of a declaration that property is uninhabitable due to defects. Condemnation via eminent domain indicates the government is taking ownership of the property or some lesser interest in it, such as an easement. After the condemnation action is filed the amount of just compensation is determined in trial. However, in some cases, the property owner challenges the right to take because the proposed taking is not for “public use”, or the condemnor is not legislatively authorized to take the subject property, or has not followed the proper substantive or procedural steps as required by law.

If your property is impacted by eminent domain, you should be getting “just compensation”.  American courts have held that the preferred measure of “just compensation” is “fair market value,” i.e., the price that a willing but unpressured buyer would pay a willing but unpressured seller in a voluntary transaction, with both parties fully informed of the property’s good and bad features.  Also, this approach takes into account the property’s highest and best use (i.e., its most profitable use) which is not necessarily its current use or the use mandated by current zoning if there is a reasonable probability of zone change.

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Charleston, SC attorney condemnation, eminent domain, property law, lawyer Chris Murphy South Carolina Christopher Murphy